News from Home (1977)
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With News from Home, Belgian director Chantal Akerman shows she can capture tedium as brilliantly in non-fiction, as she did in fiction (i.e. her masterpiece Jeanne Dielman). As her immobile camera photographs New York's streets and subways, she reads from her mother's letters (but never hers, it's a one way conversation) in a lamenting monotone that's sometimes drowned out by ambient sound. In her mother's repeated motifs, we by turns sense the reason why anyone would move away from home, and feel badly for the supportive, albeit needy parent suffering withdrawal after years of making their child their entire life. In her mundane stories about people we don't know, we see the reflection of Akerman's images, filled with anonymous New Yorkers who quizzically look at the camera, or simply ignore its presence. The biggest mystery of all is Akerman herself from whom we get no real news, her camera entirely without judgment or fathomable motive. Does she feel that she's part of this great city, or apart from it? As the movie continues, we'll have more moving shots as the camera looks out of car and train windows, perhaps informing us that she's become a part of the bustle and hustle, or perhaps she's just trying to see everything before she leaves in that final shot from the Staton Island ferry, where it's hard not to see the seagulls following as nagging avatars of her mother. I'm often reminded of Tarkovsky's very still shots in Akerman's work, in both cases forcing you to think as you process and re-process an image. Akerman's frame is always more interesting, however, perhaps because it's less philosophical and more open to interpretation. This one creeps up on you. I admit I thought the noise in the first half was giving me a headache and the experiment quickly got old. And then Akerman sticks with it even longer and your head goes many places, examining your place in the world and trying to pinpoint hers. Not experimentalism for its own sake, the experiment actually yields a powerful effect. I'm all about this.
It was fun for awhile, but the fun left and the mundane took over.
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In 5 official lists
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This movie ranks #71 in The Criterion Collection's Eclipse Series
This movie ranks #72 in Sight & Sound's The Greatest Documentaries of All Time
This movie ranks #74 in BFI's 100 Documentary Films
This movie ranks #95 in BBC's The 100 Greatest Films Directed by Women
This movie ranks #796 in TSPDT's 1,000 Greatest Films